Recently Sean London had a long, thoughtful conversation with Matt Besser about improv. Over the corse of the conversation, Sean mentioned he did not frequent Harold Night at UCB; in fact, he had only seen it twice. But he did regularly attend Shitty Jobs and Cage Match. This is what Matt Besser…
I’ll try to keep my personal opinions about Shitty Jobs out of this discussion because they’re irrelevant, but I do want to address what I think Besser was talking about when he said the show “should just be entertainment” for improv students.
If Shitty Jobs inspires someone to take improv classes, I honestly think that’s terrific. But it’s a problem if someone goes into the improv curriculum with the idea that they’re going to improvise like Shitty Jobs does. That’s a great way to undermine your education and annoy the shit out of everyone in class who’s trying to learn the fundamentals. It’s why I think Besser said Shitty Jobs “should just be entertainment for you” when you’re learning. It’s fine if it inspires someone to do improv, but not if it inspires how someone does improv. Not when they’re starting out.
Shitty Jobs can get away with breaking all the rules for two main reasons:
—Those guys have all been doing improv for years and have mastered the basics.
—They’ve been doing improv with each other for years and, as Sabrina said, they have a strong foundation of trust; they know what to expect from each other.
If someone’s new to improv, they have none of that background, not by a long shot. As Besser put it, “You might say, ‘Well, I’m not trying to get into Harolds. I want to jump right to Shitty Jobs.’ And my response to that would be, ‘You’re not good enough for Shitty Jobs.’” I’m sure the guys in Shitty Jobs would say the same thing.
So what’s the value of Shitty Jobs for a young improviser? If someone likes it and it keeps them inspired and motivated to keep doing improv, that’s good, although ultimately inspiration itself is meaningless. Shitty Jobs does at least show how much further improvisers can take their scenes and shows when they’re really comfortable with their ensembles and have established incredibly solid group mind. But I don’t think there is much else that someone learning improv can or should take away from a Shitty Jobs show saying, “That was smart, what they did. That’s something I should do in my classes/practices/shows too.” Hence Besser’s assertion that enjoying Shitty Jobs should be an entertaining experience, but not a learning experience.
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